Known to be the world’s capital of design, the city of Milan has definitely upgraded their value in the design industry. For all design enthusiasts, they could enjoy a whole lot of eye-candy sights made by all sorts of well-known designers or architects. We had a chance to peek inside the life of a design student studying abroad and her favorite go-to’s in town.
Dina Irawati chose this specific city to take her master’s degree in because she has been longing to be a part of their culture since she could ever remember. Of course, not only the man-made designs that has caught our attention, Dina also invited us to indulge on the beauty of nature throughout the city itself. This is how she spends her dreamy days in the ever-evolving city.
Tell us about you and where you live!
My name is Dina Irawati. Currently I am living in Milan, Italy as a student in Politecnico di Milano. I am on my way to finishing my master’s degree in Product Service System Design. When I was a little girl, I grew up reading books about beautiful places far, far away. I read about little villages on rolling hills where the skies are so blue they hurt your eyes, tiny cobbled-street alleyways surrounded by earth-colored walls, and azure sea perfectly paired with white sandy beaches with all its summer glory. I later found out about a country in the Mediterranian coastline that matches all these things I was longing for. It was Italy.
My desire to live in Italy persisted through many stages of my life but only after I finished my bachelor’s degree and worked for a couple of years as an interior designer in Jakarta did I have a chance to accomplish it. Italy is famous for its craftsmanship and exploration in arts and design. Many famous artists and designers come from the country. As a designer I have a personal aspiration to live in the capital of design, enriching myself with as many first-hand experiences that I can absorb. This became my main motivation to choose Milan as a place to pursue higher studies.
What are the 5 things you love about your neighborhood?
Milan is divided into 9 administrative zones. I live in Zone 9 that corresponds to the Northern part of the city, in the Maciacchini area. It is considered an ethnic neighborhood. There are quite a number of international stores available which distribute food from different parts of the world. It is fun to just go inside one of those shops to see and try what they have. Usually they give special offers on different things during certain periods of time. Another thing I like about my neighborhood is that a good coffee is just around the corner. There is this one coffee shop that my friends and I always frequent. The place is small and quite cozy. The staff always greet me with a wide smile and ask if I want to have the usual. It is always nice to feel welcomed when you are thousands of kilometers away from home.
Another important aspect is the variety of public transportations available and the 24/7 access to public transportations around my neighborhood. Milan has one of the cheapest public transportation fare among big cities in Europe. It makes traveling to one place to another so much easier. My neighborhood is located near important local spots. There are two train stations close by, one being the Central Station and another is Garibaldi station. It is also near the Porta Nuova Business District with buildings designed by famous Italian architects such as Giò Ponti, Michele de Lucchi, Stefano Boeri, and Cino Zucchi as well as international architects like Herzog and de Meuron, Pei Cobb Freed and partners, and William McDonough. Other interesting spots within reach are the main park of Milan called Parco Sempione and Chinatown area in via Paolo Sarpi.
What is your favourite things to do and places to visit during the weekend?
On the weekends I usually go to a coffee shop around the corner of my house to have coffee and brioche and meet some friends in the morning. Later in the afternoon it really depends if there are interesting things going on in the city. Sometimes there are new exhibitions I want to visit in galleries/museums like Fondazione Prada, Palazzo Reale, or Mudec. If I want to take a walk, I usually go to Garibaldi area and keep walking through Moscova and Brera until I reach Duomo. It is a nice amount of walk with many interesting things along the way because there are many design shops right and left such as 10 Corso Como, Magis, and Valcuccine. When there is a vintage or flowers market in Navigli, I go there just to see what is in store and feel the atmosphere of the city. In the evening I have dinner at home or cook dinner together at a friend’s house, maybe going out for aperitivo in Navigli once in a while.
3 things you love about Milan
I love that I can get around without a car. The thought of having a car just slips my mind when I started living in Milan. There are many options of public transportation within affordable price and lots of time you can walk your way through an area or neighborhood. There are many parks too, which I adore so much. Small parks, big parks. It is very liberating to have green spaces scattered within the city where people can do activities like having a picnic, running, walking their dogs, or just sitting around relaxing. I also find it fascinating that Duomo is still used for a meeting point even 800 years after it was built. Every time I see the cathedral it is like I fall in love with the city all over again.
What interests you most about this city?
Milano, Milano. Where do I even begin? I have such a deep and immense love for this lovely city in Northern Italy. The capital of design and fashion, the city has gradually stolen my heart. Milan is one peculiar city. At a glance, it does not seem to have many to offer. The secret lies within the hidden places, only available for the known few. It is like a secret club, almost. Once you venture into the back streets and inner courtyards, you encounter a totally different world. You need to let the pretty lady opens up to you as she likes to tell you about her favorite places all around the city bit by bit. Milan has the perfect human:city ratio. It is not too big and also not too small. It’s exactly the perfect size for exploring.
There are several main means of transportation you can choose from: metro, buses, trams, and trains. Bike and car sharing are also available for the public. The best way to experience Milan’s neighborhoods, in my opinion though, is by walking. You can always stop and venture your way inside delightful, seemingly-forgotten shops or buy yourself a beautiful bouquet of flowers from a local florist just because. One more interesting thing is everyone seems to be highly fashionable and confident with their fashion choices. You can be at the most ordinary bus stop and see a person who looks like he or she comes straight out of a high end fashion advertisement. Even the old lady that you meet on the tram makes you look twice.
Tell us the best place to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Milan!
For breakfast I highly recommend the ever so Milanese bakery called Princi. It’s a household name in Milan, even the uniforms of its staffs are made by Giorgio Armani. I personally like Princi in via Ponte Venero (near Brera) and Piazza XXV Aprile (near Porta Nuova) the most because the areas are nice. For lunch, try Spontini with its sliced pizza at a very affordable price. Spontini is a fast-paced pizzeria with standing concept. Experience the real Milan with its no-nonsense fast lunch.
Dinner is a big deal in Italy. During dinner you take your time tasting the food and having a conversation about your loved ones. Go to Pizzeria Maruzzella to taste their delicious pizza and pasta. They have two locations, Piazza Oberdan and Viale Zara. I prefer the one in Viale Zara because it is less touristy. You can also go to La Fabbrica in the trendy Corso Como and have a sight-seeing afterwards in Piazza Gae Aulenti or Moscova area.
Besides dinner, Milan has a thing called aperitivo. Aperitivo in most parts of Italy is pre-dinner drinks and small meals to enhance your appetite and open your stomach. In Milan, bars make aperitivo with all-you-can-eat food and a drink for a fixed price. It is considerably affordable. Some places to have aperitivo are La Hora Feliz in Colonne di San Lorenzo; Bhangra Bar in Corso Sempione; Maya, Manhattan, Straripa in Navigli; and Blender in Piazzale Susa.
Where’s the best place to have a picnic?
I would say Parco Sempione. It is a park right in the city center with a little pond in the middle and a view to Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle) and Arco della Pace (Gate of Peace). The park is very pretty during spring and summer, with leaves blossoming and birds chirping. Nearby there is La Triennale di Milano arts and design museum that also has a lovely park inside.
I have a secret getaway spot though. There is a little park in the back of Galleria d’Arte Moderna/Villa Reale in Palestro. It is called Giardino della Villa Belgiojoso Bonaparte. You can sit down under the trees or on the grass, looking at the magnificent Villa Reale or Italian families having fun with their kids on the playground. A nice place to forget the hustle and bustle of Milan.
Is there any thrift store/second hand market there?
In Navigli area in the South of Milan, there is a vintage market on every last Sunday of the month. The vintage market is located precisely by the banks of Naviglio Grande, the oldest canal in Milan. It is one of the most-awaited event in town, with hundreds of stalls selling preloved eccentric clothes and accessories, old typewriters, vinyls, and other lovely miscellaneous. Another place that you must visit for its vintage goodness is East Market in via Privata Giovanni Ventura. It opens about two times every month and offers not only vintage collections of things but also Italian food trucks. Walking around East Market during the weekend is energizing. The place/event is also good for people watching and taking fashion inspirations.
Where are the best spots to enjoy a beautiful scenery?
I like Parco Sempione and there is also Parco Nord that is much bigger located at the city periphery. There are also smaller parks which are also pretty such as Giardini della Guastalla and Giardini Piazza Vetra.
Recommended coffee shop, local bookstore, and thrift market in Milan.
For coffee shops, there are Pavè in Repubblica, RED Feltrinelli that is also a bookstore in Garibaldi, Mamusca which at the same time is a children bookshop and daycare and also a coffee shop, Moleskine Cafe in Moscova, Panini Durini in via Durini, Gogol and Company where you can also find books in via Savona, Ottimo Massimo near Duomo, 7sgio in Maciacchini area, and Bar Luce that is designed by Wes Anderson in Fondazione Prada complex in Lago Isarco.
Local bookstores that I like are Feltrinelli in Duomo di Milano, American Bookstore in Cairoli, TASCHEN Store in Corso Magenta, and Armani Bookstore in via Manzoni, and 10 Corso Como where they have a wide selection of English and Italian books in design, art, and architecture.
When is the best time to visit Italy?
One thing you need to know about Italy is that in the summer the temperature can get up to 40 degree Celsius. I had a heat stroke when I visited Rome in July. The sun is just intense in Italy during summer months. The best time to visit Italy is during late spring or early summer, around mid May – late June. The weather is perfect in that period. There isn’t that much rain and the sun is out most of the time. If you come in late June you can even swim in the sea or the lake.
Where are your favourite destinations in Italy?
Very hard question. There are tons of places to visit in Italy. The most memorable ones for me is Alberobello and Polignano al Mare in Puglia, Cinque Terre in Liguria, Venezia (Venice) in Veneto, and Firenze (Florence) in Toscana. Italy has such scenic towns. They are incredible. Getting lost among little alleyways is my favorite activity every time I visit an Italian town.
Give us your mix tape (5 songs) when you’re walking around the city!
Takagi & Ketra, Lorenzo Fragola, Arisa – L’esercito del selfie
Phoenix – Ti Amo
Levante – Alfonso
Cesare Cremonini – Buon Viaggio (Share the Love)
Mayer Hawthorne – The Walk
Special thanks to Dina on sharing her daily life in the city of Milan, where we now can find the hippest places to hang out but also other places to just let our inner self be in peace. We truly hope to experience an exciting adventure just like hers!
*photos courtesy of Dina Irawati